Belmont is working on a plan for the Ralston Corridor, an east-west arterial which splits downtown Belmont Village, connects people to the Caltrain station and El Camino bus corridor, and connects drivers from Highway 280 to Highway 101. The city is conducting a study to develop transportation alternatives to improve use by pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and vehicles, now and in the future.
Last week, there was a public meeting to take public input for the study. Belmont resident Gladwyn D’Souza reports that there were about 20 people in attendance, with about 15 Belmont residents, 5 residents from San Carlos and Redwood Shores, and public officials including staff, council members, and planning commissioners.
At the meeting, two leading institutions in Belmont asked for integrated programs to help get more cars off the road. James Saunders from Notre Dame De Namur University, a private coed Catholic university with about 2000 students, said that the University already offers programs including providing students with a free Clipper card with a starter amount of $20, shuttles, bike parking, and zipcar. Oracle, the major technology company whose with headquarters in Redwood Shores, offers a robust commute program. Their representative also asked for support from Belmont for better support of alternatives to driving.
Residents of Belmont mentioned concerns for the safety of children crossing Ralston. Fox Elementary and Ralston Middle School are among the schools near the busy road. Residents highlighted particularly dangerous spots and high speeds. Alta is a consultant on the project; they have done a Safe Routes to School Study in Belmont, and are working on a Safe Routes to School study for Palo Alto.
In addition there were several members of the school community in Redwood Shores and San Carlos, who were most interested in vehicle improvements to help get kids to school in Belmont.
The City has different sets of goals for Ralston, including the a Village District plan with goals “to provide Belmont with a sustainable development strategy for a vibrant downtown while ensuring that the village maintain and strengthen its unique character, historic roots, and human scale.” Other goals include a Complete Streets policy to make streets safe for all users, and the Grand Boulevard Initiative with goals to make El Camino a more effectively multi-modal boulevard with development taking advantage of the transit corridor.
At the same time, Ralston carries large amounts of vehicle traffic – 38,000 average daily trips (ADT) between 6th and the East side, 24,000 ADT between Alameda and 6th, and 25,000 trips between Alameda and 92.
At the meeting, W-Trans, the consultant working on the transportation study, said their goal was to optimize the movement of people. This perspective would seem to prioritize the high-speed flow of vehicles. The W-Trans representative said that the study would weigh the pros and cons of changes based on the volume of current uses, which would favor the street’s role in moving people in vehicles through town, above its under-developed role in allowing local residents to get across town and to the train station without driving.
On a steep hillside, Ralston faces distinctive challenges, since winter rains erode the hillsides and wash away the road. This puts a burden on the city’s maintenance and operations budget, which is falling far behind in the maintenance of Belmont’s city streets. The maintenance costs could be reduced with watershed planning to improve hillside permeability and stability, reducing erosion, according to Gladwyn D’Souza. These topics have not yet been included in the study scope.
With the help of its consultants, the City will seek grants to address issues identified in the study. But without a clearer sense of priorities, will the funding address the right mix of goals?
If you are interested in participating in the process, and improving the likelihood that Ralston will get better at helping people get around the village and to transit without driving, and reducing traffic, not just helping it speed through town – share your thoughts and sign up for updates here:
Reporting by Gladwyn D’Souza
Very small audience
There were a number of good points- NDNU was there asking for integrated
alternatives that got cars of the road- they mentioned programs they have
started on free $20/- clipper cards, shuttles, bike parking, and zipcar.
Oracle sent a representative who also asked for integrated alternatives.
Number of issues were mentioned such as the problem of having children cross
Ralston, timing of signals especially for elderly (Safe Routes for Senior!),
dangerous points for peds and bikes, mid block crossings, pollution, danger,
stacking lanes, speeds, etc. Alta is a consultant on the project and they
have done a Safe Routes to School Study in Belmont and are in process of
doing a city wide one in Palo Alto. Jennifer said she will try and fold the
Belmont SRTS data in.
There was a split out session where we got to comment on the corridor in
three sections Sixth and east with 38,000 ADT (average daily trips), sixth
to Alameda with 24,000 ADT, and Alameda to 92 with 25,000. They were going
to measure the modal performance.
And they mentioned most of the big items: Council priority, multi modal,
GBI, San Mateo smart corridor, village district, Belmont General Plan.
Complete streets, context sensitive.
They never mentioned the One Bay Area Plan. They said that they would look
at alternatives for a regional corridor but weigh the pros and cons based on
uses; which disadvantages the lesser performing modes. Their goal was to
optimize the movement of people- a strange one since it presupposes speed
and isn’t that what any planning process would do? Meanwhile the Strategic
Plan which covers the 38k ADT advocates a different goal: To provide Belmont
with a sustainable development strategy for a vibrant downtown while
ensuring that the village maintain and strengthen its unique character,
historic roots, and human scale.
W-Trans/Alta planning said they would find the grants to make the projects
happen despite the poorly defined objectives. It seemed more like a fishing
expedition for what the audience would provide cover for. For example Alan
Sarver, of School Force, talked about widening the corridor to function like
an arterial with signals to speed it up- he didn’t care for any traffic
calming or how locals used the corridor. The project drawings were very road
oriented despite the obvious need to start with a landscape architect for
both the watershed impacts and how the view shed and visual logistics would
function within a human scale design informing the geometries between the
landuses. The implication of securing funding through grants defers the
objectives; i.e. the available fundable program should address the elemental
parameters from design to M/O of the grant criteria rather than the original
objectives which would be held off for alternate grant funding.